Posted by: grantmiho | May 1, 2015

Tensions to Manage Not Solve

I’ve recently been thinking about an idea I heard from Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta. He talked about the difference between problems to solve and tensions to manage. For instance, in his church, there is always the tension of excellence and financial stewardship. Move too far either way and you can either go broke or lose the quality you seek to have in your services and programs. There is no simple solution to solve this tension. It needs to be managed.

For us, we face several tensions that do not have easy solutions. One is that Tokyo Life Church is a bilingual, international church with a heart for the Japanese. We have been steadily increasing our well of Japanese lyrics in our song database. We strive to translate most everything we do. Yet, our community is roughly half internationals and half Japanese. Those who serve in our kids ministry may not be fluent in Japanese. During our young adult gatherings, some only speak English, some only Japanese, and several who are fine with both. As we prepare for small groups, we will constantly face the tension of keeping things simple and separate, or have a blended community with the language complexities. Since our passion is to welcome Japanese, create a community for them, and speak messages that connect to their lives, we will always live in a tension of having everybody in mind as we communicate.

Another tension we are experiencing is the reality of the busy Japanese life. Some people work six days a week, with only Sunday to spend time with family, rest, or do other things. Some people even work on Sundays. As we think about small groups, no time is necessarily ideal for most people. We live in the tension of being too legalistic by pressuring people to attend services regularly or being very lenient and letting people come whenever it is convenient for them. Neither option sits well with us. We want our community to be full of grace and life. If showing up feels like a duty, this destroys the community we are trying to create. For our volunteers, we are learning to become flexible as things come up or people get sick. Last minute changes are quite commonplace. Again, a tension to manage. Too much pressure and people may feel burned out.

A final tension is ministry and family life. We try to complete our sermons by Friday, along with slides and other last minute details. However, we often find ourselves writing emails, doing final edits, and finishing projects on Saturday. We strive to keep Saturday as our family day, since this is one of Allie’s only days off each week. Doing ministry out of our home makes it tough to have a clear divide from work and home. With technology, we are constantly able to talk to people, check email, and work on things. One of our major commitments is to care for our family, so our girls grow up loving God and the Church, rather than feeling like they were always a distant priority to God’s work. We are fortunate to have people who love our girls in our church. They play with them as we set up on Sunday mornings at 8:30am. When we have people over for meals, our girls feel included. There are no clear guidelines for how to balance both well. No easy solutions. But, we seek to manage the tension of fully pouring our lives into others and our church, while not neglecting our family in the process.

Please pray for us as we manage these (and other) tensions. Despite these tensions, we truly feel privileged to pursue God’s vision for our life as we plant this church with our whole family.

Posted by: grantmiho | March 12, 2015

Influential Books

Recently I came across a post about the most influential books from some key Christian leaders. It got me thinking about those books that have deeply impacted me and what I would recommend for others to read. As with most thoughts, this is what came to mind right now, though I am sure at other seasons of life I would pick out other ones.

Just as a sample from the other leaders, here is what a few of them mentioned when asked about influential spiritual books, novels, and biographies:

1. Eugene Peterson- a. Karl Barth- Epistle to the Romans, b. Dostoyevski- The Brothers Karamazov & The Idiot, c. Herman Melville- Moby Dick, ….

2. Charles Swindoll- a. J.I. Packer- Knowing God, b. John Bunyan- The Pilgrim’s Progress, c. A.W. Tozer- The Pursuit of God, d. J. Oswald Sanders- Spiritual Leadership

3. Chuck Colson- a. C.S. Lewis- Mere Christianity, b. St. Augustine- Confessions, c. Dostoyevski- The Brothers Karamazov, d. John Bunyan- The Pilgrims Progress

My list is more personal and subjective to how the books impacted me. I realize that a list should lean towards classics and monumental books, but I would rather point in honesty to those which shaped me, even if they are not the most critically acclaimed or stand the test of time.

Top Influential Books:

1. John Maxwell- Developing the Leader Inside You. After reading like crazy as a kid, I only read mandatory books from junior high. At 16 I discovered this book from my dad, which rekindled my love for reading. It sparked a desire to grow, learn, and become a person of integrity and influence.

2. C. S. Lewis- Mere Christianity. While not on most high school kid’s Christmas list, I asked for this my senior year of high school after seeing it mentioned by numerous people. One of Lewis’s finest books, in my opinion. This was one of the first books I read that helped me understand the Christian faith and defend it.

3. Kent Hughes- Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome. As a young driven leader who had served at several megachurches, this book freed me from equating godly success with large numbers. While I remain driven and hope to reach as many people with the message of hope in Christ, I now weigh my life but other measurements, such as faithfulness, character, ….

4. Dale Carnegie- How to Win Friends and Influence People. I used to be a little embarrassed to tell people how much I loved this book. As a pastor, I am in the people business. While basic social etiquette, the stories and principles were memorable and insightful to really connect with others. One of the most quotable books ever.

5. Haddon Robinson- Biblical Preaching. My first and still favorite preaching book ever read (of at least 50). This book alone stirred my passion for preaching. It influenced my decision to go to Gordon-Conwell to study and even work with Haddon. My life and ministry would likely be very different had I moved elsewhere. A definite classic for preachers.

Top Novel: (Admit to not reading many novels. These are more ones I enjoy rather than ones that deeply impacted me)

1. Alexander Dumas- The Count of Monte Cristo. First book I read in French. 2. Shusako Endo- Silence. Historical fiction about Christian persecution in 17th century Japan. 3. Harry Potter series. Again, not list of classics but books I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Great story from start to finish.

Top Biographies

1. David Livingstone (author unknown)- One of my missionary heroes, as a Scottish man pioneering through central Africa.

2. Lyle Dorsett- A Passion for Souls (DL Moody). My other ministry hero. The life and impact of Moody was one of the biggest factors in my desire to study at the school named after him. A great preacher, a passion for people, and a desire to make an impact for God through his life.

Posted by: grantmiho | January 11, 2015

T-Minus 7 Days to Official Launch

IMG_2383 Through years of dreaming, winding roads leading us in new unexpected directions, months of building a team and hosting preview services, we are now on the verge of officially launching our church plant, Tokyo Life Church.

If this past month is any indication, we sense that God is truly up to something in our midst. We have had a Christmas event where most of our guests were invited by other new people to our church community. At one of our services, we met a guy from Boston who is interested in moving over here. First time to meet, but excited by his passion for Japan and joining with what we are doing here. Just today, we had three first-time visitors (and one toddler). One guy came through a Cali friend’s recommendation. One lady came through the recommendation of a lady in Osaka whom we have never met before some email exchanges this week. The final guest had been at Highrock before moving back to Japan.

We now have a regular place to meet. We are about to launch our website. We have a a wonderful team of leaders who pour into our children. We have a worship leader with a dedicated and gifted worship team. Despite a range of needs in our team, we feel so blessed to officially begin this new community with our team.

With a new year full of possibilities, may we continue to dream and pursue all that God has in store for us as we seek to welcome new people, grow deeper as a community, and find ways to be a blessing in our surrounding community. This is just the beginning…….:)

Posted by: grantmiho | October 12, 2014

Are We Rich?

While driving home the other day, Allie asked me an unusual question. She said, “Papa, are we rich?” She had just asked about going to Disneyland again. But, telling her that we only go on special occasions, she commented on how it costs a lot of money. Some things do sink in to her 🙂 She hasn’t quite grasped the reality of finances and the cost of things, but she is beginning to perceive the reality of paying for things.

This was an interesting question for me to answer. For one, I am trying to answer a 4-year old who has limited understanding about concepts like rich and poor. Further, it is a somewhat relative concept. Lastly, it depends on what we mean by being rich.

Wealth is a very relative term. In the US, for instance, the average income is around $50,000. Recently I noticed a chart that stated how families earning over $100,000 a year were in the top 20%. Many people I know in this bracket would likely not call themselves rich, even though they may be in the top 20% of the wealthiest nation on Earth. Compared to the rest of the world, we now that 1/3 of people live on less than $2 a day. Even for the median income in the US or Japan, they would be in the top 10-15%. Yet, a public school teacher would likely not classify themself as rich, even if they are living above 85% of everybody else.

Last week I noticed another chart for the highest and lowest salaries of college majors. In the top 10 were variations of engineering. In the bottom among the humanities and art were pastoral studies, theology, and religious studies. Nobody expects (or hopes) for a missionary to be associated with the label “rich.” As with some of the other majors, we didn’t go into our field for income potential but a desire to make a difference in lives of others or pursue what we are passionate about.

Even though our salary qualified us for housing assistance when we were back in the US, we feel incredibly blessed by God for His provision in our life. Though we don’t and likely won’t own a home, we are completely free from debt and have been able to fully pay off our credit card bills each month. Our girls have never had to miss a meal due to lack of money to buy food. One economist once said that you are rich if you never have to think about money. Thanks for our generous supporters, we truly are not anxious about money.

In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul encourages Timothy to be rich in good deeds and generosity. In this light, we hope to be a “rich” family that holds loosely to what we have, no matter how much it may be. Every time we welcome people over to our home, we are grateful to God allowing us to use our space and provide food for our guests. We hope our new church will become a place that is known for our generosity. This is a richness that all of us can attain, no matter our earning potential or bank account level.

As I responded to Allie, I tried to convey how we are not wealthy (especially in case she talks about this with friends as school), but blessed to have a nice place to live and have our needs met. While we may not be able to buy everything or go anywhere she wants, we will care for her needs and do our best to create great experiences and memories as a family. We also hope she feels “rich” in love and generosity to her friends, Japan, and the world.  May you and your family also strive to be “rich” in this way.

Posted by: grantmiho | September 14, 2014

Picking up Speed for the Fall

Wow, hard to believe it is already mid-September. Today we hosted our fourth preview service, which had over twenty people. Each month feels stronger and stronger. Our team is bonding and stepping up to serve and lead in so many ways. It is a great feeling to have so many show up early to set up and pitch in to clean up afterwards, while each playing a part (or multiple roles) in the service. We are now moving into bi-weekly services, before we aim for weekly services in December.

For the past three services, we have had a new visitor each time! Two were college students and one was a family. Another beautiful element is how Highrock Church in Boston played a part in their lives. One of the college students went to church as a child. During her overseas study in Boston, we helped connect her with Highrock, where she visited a few times. She ended up bringing her friend recently which was her first time to step into a church in Japan. This morning, two days after moving back to Tokyo (only one station away from our church), a family with two young kids came to our service. They had been in Boston for work. Despite any background with Christianity, they got connected to the Japanese ministry at Highrock and even began going to services. After our service, a dozen or so of us got lunch together and hung out for nearly two hours in the park next to our meeting location. Their kids played so well with our girls and seemed so comfortable with us already.

After the next service, we will have met five times in four different locations. Despite the challenge of people finding us and settling into one fixed place, God is definitely at work here. We are amazed at our incredible team. We are blessed by the new people we are meeting. Once we find a regular place to gather, we anticipate more opportunities to reach out and offer creative new ministries. Pray that God continues to use us, even as we are nomads. Pray that we will continue to delegate and release our leaders to serve, as we realize our limitations with two small girls. Pray that our community continues to welcome, connect with, and care for people joining us at Tokyo Life Church!

Posted by: grantmiho | June 11, 2014

Quick Updates on Tokyo Life Church

We are now just two and a half weeks away from our first preview service. The wheels are moving and things are already happening. Here are just a few recent developments and topics for prayer. 

1. While we have one meeting place in Ikebukuro in July, we just found out that we were declined to use a school that we hoped may be a more regular meeting location. We will continue the pursuit of a weekly rental location. This is a major prayer item.

2. Our launch team continues to grow in diversity. Though a small team, we are already over seven nationalities from three continents. The newest person to join is the brother of a pastor friend who is studying music in Tokyo. We welcome new people, especially gifted musicians 🙂

3. Two different friends have put us in touch with possible exchange college students moving to Tokyo in the Fall. At a retreat church retreat, a man who works in campus ministry at several schools in our church plant area expressed how he hopes to connect us to some college students. We see God going ahead of us and building bridges already.

4. A recent Boston college grad who had hoped to join us just learned that he was placed in northern Japan, Yamagata, to teach English this year. We trust that God will use him there and use this year in Japan to do incredible things in his life and around him. Yet, we are sad that it did not work out for him to be near us. Another recent grad has an interview very soon for a teaching job here in Japan. Pray for our Highrock friend to come to Tokyo and serve with us. 

5. In July, the executive pastor at Highrock Church-Arlington, Eugene Kim, will be joining us for ten days to help train our worship team and work with us in these early stages as a church plant. We are excited not only to gain his insight and vast experience in leading worship and planning services, but also for building bridges between our team and Highrock. 

Thank you for following what God is doing here in Tokyo. This is just the beginning of our adventure as a new church; one surely fraught with unexpected challenges but also unimaginable joys.  

Posted by: grantmiho | April 20, 2014

Jesus Lives and is Still at Work in Japan

ImageToday, we concluded one of the most incredible weekends of the year. Holy Week and Easter is always a special time of year, but this weekend was particularly special to us. As we lead the Alpha Course since January, one of the ladies that has been coming accepted Christ last month and took the step of faith to be baptized today. Over the past month, Miho regularly met with her to help her grow in her newfound faith. As we got closer to Easter, she indicated that she preferred that Miho baptize her. This was a great honor, especially since this was the first time for Miho to perform a baptism. Her testimony was very moving as God used another family from our church to reach out to her over the past few years and now bring her to this decision. She also shared how she has already begun to notice God at work in her life through how she responds to her husband and kids. This morning, three other women were baptized alongside Noriko (two of them Japanese). 

ImageYesterday, we hosted a Family Easter Outreach. One of Allie’s friends from school came with his older brother and mom. Through an Easter egg hunt, dying and coloring eggs, and a dramatic reading of the Easter story, tons of kids, primarily Japanese, got to hear the Gospel for possibly the first time. We had 90 kids and 50 parents show up, which is bigger than previous years. A few families from the Alpha course came with their kids, while one woman brought 18 kids from the school she teaches. We loved our team at the church who led everything, which allowed us to care for our girls and be good hosts to our guests (though Miho did do some translation). In the past, we were used to planning, promoting, leading, and cleaning up after our family events. 

This will definitely be a memorable weekend for years to come. God is alive and still at work here in Japan. We are seeing it firsthand right now and look forward to more lives changed in the months and years ahead. 

These words, spoken by Mark Twain, really capture our feelings today following a random encounter with a pastor friend. While on a walk with our girls, we bumped into this family on their way to a Hanami party (Cherry Blossom viewing). After a brief chat, they mentioned a dinner they had with a young woman the previous week. Since she had come to our Alpha Course a few times, they knew we knew her. Through our conversations when she came, we sensed an openness to Christ, though questions still lingered. Due to her interest in Jesus, she had visited their church as well recently. 

They then told us how during dinner she asked how to become a Christian. As a pastor, it is hard to imagine a more exciting questions to be asked. Right then and there, they led her to Christ!! 

They went on to share how while they would love to have her join their church, the distance from her home may be too much. So, they plan on encouraging her to visit a more local church in her part of western Tokyo. I think I particularly appreciated this response since it is all too common for pastors to come across territorial, especially given how small churches are here and how important each person can be for their congregation. 

In Corinthians, Paul shares a similar thought to Mark Twain (though Paul came up with long before the Tom Sawyer author). He talks about how one person may sow a seed, another water the plant, and finally a third may do the harvesting. In this case, we know that people have been praying for her before she even came to our Alpha class, another missionary had been meeting with her, and that God probably has used more people than we could imagine to bring her to this point. Though we didn’t have the joy of having that conversation with her over dinner, we all can rejoice of what God did. Ultimately, He is the one who deserves the credit anyways. It is not our questions during the Alpha class, Nicky Gumbel’s teaching during the video, or any other conversations that truly matter. God’s Spirit may have worked through these, but He should be the one that we praise at the end of the day. 

My hope is that we all continue to serve with an attitude that God deserves the credit. Sure, we want to see our churches grow, lives to be changed, feel that God is using us, but I hope these ambitions don’t interfere with us playing our small parts together in seeing the Kingdom grow wherever God desires. 

Posted by: grantmiho | March 7, 2014

Get Great Japan Prints, Give to Church Plant

Our friend, Tommy Wong, has recently posted some of his incredible photos online to sell. We’ve known him since Boston, but he also came to Japan for two years with the Navy. During his time here, he captured some beautiful shots. (There are also photos from other places). Given his heart to support what we do (along with two other charities close to heart), this site is dedicated to sell prints, posters, cards, and canvases of his photos with all the proceeds (minus the costs to print) going to charity. You can have the money split between the three groups or indicate if you would like for your purchase to benefit our Tokyo church plant. Please consider supporting us while benefiting from some beautiful art for your home.

Posted by: grantmiho | February 2, 2014

Joys of Being a Team in Ministry

While the pastoral couple have been on sabbatical these past couple months, Miho and I have been privileged to lead communion each month. We could list the myriad of ways that we love being a team serving together in ministry. Today was another reminder why we love being a team. Together we explain the Lord’s Supper and invite everyone to joyfully come and take the elements. Along with the various stations, we stand to the side to pray for those not ready to take communion, especially little kids. As the kids come, I pray for the English speaking kids, while Miho prays for the Japanese speaking kids. Such a simple act, but has had a profound affect on us. It is hard not to have joy as you kneel down and place your hand on a young kid and pray over them that they understand what Christ has done for them and that they come to love and follow Jesus. 

Last month, Allie decided she wanted to stay in the service instead of going to the nursery. As we led communion, she stayed seated with another lady. To our surprise, she come up on stage smiling. What a precious moment. She seemed so happy to see us leading up front. While we often pray for her, that moment was special for us. 

From where we are now, we could not imagine serving any other way. God brought us together with similar passions, complementary gifts, and a love to work together. 

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